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How to Balance Your Child’s Screen Time During COVID-19 Pandemic

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

This is a different time for Americans and people all over the world. When life is abnormal, our rules and routines must adjust or else parents will drive themselves crazy. The only thing more stressful than a pandemic is trying to parent the same way you have in the past and enforce the same rules. Your life has changed. Your kids’ lives have changed. And as a family, you must establish new norms.


For screen time, rather than focusing on how many hours your child is online, consider some looser guidelines such as these:


1. Focus on quality over quantity.


In this article, Sierra Filucci, the editorial director of Common Sense Media, says kids “are going to be fine with extra screen time over the next couple of weeks…As long as you’re choosing age-appropriate content, you’re not going to do any major damage to your kids.” 


Right now, the question isn’t How long can my child be online? but rather What should he be doing online? With school and social activities moved to the screen, chances are your child is spending most of his day online right now, and there’s not much you can do about it. That’s OK. You are not ruining him. Focus on quality over quantity. Has he been doing educational work, talking with a friend, watching an age-appropriate show? These could be very beneficial to him during this time, and to you.

2. Balance screen time with outdoor time.


The outdoors is not off-limits with a shelter-in-place order as long as you are maintaining a six-foot distance from fellow hikers. Houston-based doctor Dr. Eric Singhi suggests taking advantage of this: “I would encourage a balanced approach…Balance increased screen time with a walk or hike, so long as you maintain the six feet apart rule and if you aren’t being quarantined.”


After being on the computer all day, your child will likely welcome a change of scenery.


3. Determine what helps and what hurts.


This requires trial and error, but determine what apps, sites, and social media outlets are helpful for your child and which ones are hurtful. What mood is he in after being on social media versus watching a nature show or taking a virtual tour of a museum. You will probably be able to notice what is helping your child online and what is hurting. Dr. Singhi points out that even his own screen time has largely increased, but some of that is research for work or using calming meditation apps like Headspace. Listening to a mindfulness app or audiobook will have a different effect on your child than, say, video games or Instagram. Pay attention to how your child is feeling and adjust from there.


Screen time is a big topic for parents during any season, but right now, the conversation is different. The rules have changed. Your child will have to be on her screen more. Don’t add to your stress by stressing about that. Find a new norm and give yourself time to navigate this strikingly different territory in real life and online.

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